The Answer to the Riddle Is Me
A Memoir of Amnesia
“Brilliant and painful and hilarious.” —Antonya Nelson
On October 17, 2002, David MacLean “woke up” on a train platform in India with no idea who he was or why he was there. No money. No passport. No identity.
Taken to a mental hospital by the police, MacLean then started to hallucinate so severely he had to be tied down. Soon he could remember song lyrics, but not his family, his friends, or the woman he was told he loved. All of these symptoms, it turned out, were the result of the commonly prescribed malarial medication he had been taking. Upon his return to the States, he struggled to piece together the fragments of his former life in a harrowing, absurd, and unforgettable journey back to himself.
The Answer to the Riddle Is Me, drawn from David MacLean’s award-winning This American Life essay, is a deeply felt, closely researched, and intensely personal book. It asks every reader to confront the essential questions of our age: In our geographically and chemically fluid world, what makes me who I am? And how much can be stripped away before I become someone else entirely?
Praise For The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia…
Praise for The Answer to the Riddle is Me:
"A gripping medical mystery, a heartwarming personal journey, and a chilling indictment of the commonly prescribed drug that upended MacLean's life—but left his superb literary skills intact."
—Rebecca Skloot, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
"A mesmerizing, unsettling memoir about the ever-echoing nature of identity—written in vivid, blooming detail."
—Gillian Flynn, New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl
"MacLean fearlessly explores his journey to the edge of madness and his subsequent return to sanity in an unsettling, sometimes riotous, memoir."
"A deeply moving account of amnesia that explores the quandary of the self . . . MacLean has written a memoir that combines the evocative power of William Styron's ‘Darkness Visible,’ the lyric subtlety of Michael Ondaatje's ‘Running in the Family’ and the narrative immediacy of a Hollywood action film. He reminds us how we are all always trying to find a version of ourselves that we can live with."
—Los Angeles Times
"incandescent...MacLean’s account is raw and unsparing, and will surely take you out of your comfort zone — the reader is immersed in the writer’s oblivion and his vertiginous journey of recovery — but the reward for sticking with it is the privilege of reading MacLean’s profound and finely nuanced meditation on memory and identity."
—The Seattle Times
"What does it mean to be the person you are? How much can be stripped away before you are no longer you? This is a fascinating book that resides in the mind as if you lived it yourself. "
—Robert Boswell, author of Tumbledown
"Thoughtful, terribly honest, often funny, and utterly un-self-indulgent, this is a riveting work of narrative art."
—Tony Hoagland, author of What Narcissism Means to Me
"A compelling personal account and a frightful caution to physicians and travelers who continue to place their faith in a very dangerous drug."
—Dr. Remington L. Nevin, MPH, Mefloquine expert
"Brilliant and painful and hilarious."
—Antonya Nelson, author Some Fun
"David Stuart MacLean is a writer who can break your heart, terrify you, and make you laugh all on the same page. The Answer to The Riddle is Me is a masterful exploration of the funhouse of identity."
—Mat Johnson, author of Pym
"While MacLean's experience is unlucky indeed, the luck becomes ours as he takes us with him on his harrowing journey, which is rendered with exactitude, humor, and lyricism."
—Maggie Nelson, author of The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780547519272, 304pp.
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
About the Author
DAVID STUART MACLEAN is a Pen/American award-winning writer. His work has appeared in Ploughshares and on the radio program This American Life. He has a PhD from the University of Houston and is a co-founder of the Poison Pen Reading Series. He lives in Chicago with his wife.